PEREGRINATIONS THROUGH THE WORK OF AHMED MALEK
by Domenic Maltempi
Ahmed Malek is primarily known as a composer of film music that defined a generation for his homeland Algeria, and beyond. His music has a long reach, as does his other works, that evade native boundaries, or sonic brackets. What informs it, sculpts it, and gives its heft, is not only his prowess as a composer, but the open-eyed child-wide antenna and appetite for sound and its possibilities scattered around Earth.
His method of composing was as pioneering, as it was richly comprised of a syncretistic tapestry of musical traditions. This was inevitable for a man of genius that visited his lion's share of nations, including visits to Fidel Castro's Cuba (where he was received by the latter) and the far reaches of both hemispheres.
The excellent short film Planet Malek, encapsulates in its very title, this key aspect about Malek's sound. The film, put out by the Excellent Label Habibi Funk, and viewable among other places (see Habibi Funk Records) gives us an idea (from interviews with his daughter, fellow composers, and music lovers) of a joyfully serious spirit, and maker of soundtracks that both mirrored and reflected the heart and soul of many celebrated moving pictures. These pieces, such as the bittersweet, and elegantly melancholic "Omar Gelato," grab you by both hands, and move you into a muted-sensually-life-affirming embrace. It does so with warm keys, percussive bravado, and a bass line that is just buttoned down enough to move you from meditative to dreamily somatic.
The sounds can pull one into a tangle of driven movement with its Algerian inflected disco-funk-stateliness, as it can stir the mind into taking in, and pouring back out in feeling--- the virtuosic arrangement, and symmetry with images/stories provided by the films, or the artist's vision as can only be converted into pictures by the listener.
Here is music that moves through and with the power of fantasy, or cinematic flight, but reaches such profound heights by wading amongst the riches on offer in this world of sound. A cut such as "La Ville, Pt 1" brings to mind the Afro- indigenous-Brazilian verdant trance of Tribo Massahi, and his incredible work from 1971 Estrelando Embaixador. In both works, an equal measure of deep seated, almost incantatory rhythm, is shared with a sort of ceremonial, or court-like procession of sounds. Voices, and percussion dominated Massahi's work. In "La Ville," horns emerge from that chant like concentration of percussion, opening up the door onto wilder swatches of keys, and a heart of coruscating organ that might take a cue from a certain type of disco-funk, but is still situated in the movement of the film in which it gives life to that cannot be severed of its Tunisian cadence, its soaring, spiraling airs.
I'm not terribly knowledgeable about musical innovation, but it's easy to be floored by how Malek composed. He used an Atari 1040 ST as a sort of ancestral MIDI device! This is in the 1970s! The system allowed him to write music with Cubase software, which he connected to a big ol' keyboard. The intense appetite for novel instruments, technology, and unique application, puts me in mind of such luminaries and revolutionaries as the composer of Sun Ra.
Born in the year 1930, Malek could easily evade the attention of many an ear looking for a new opportunity to fall in love with sound grounded in both learned composition, and a certain playful genius. Here was such a mind that sought out the unexplored, the alien, the not understood, the once dead, or mistaken for dead tradition of another land, and brought life to it. My favorite tune is a most moving composition called "Autopsied D'un Complot" or "Autopsy of a Conspiracy."
It's a song as cunningly seductive in sound as it is titled. Starting with an almost American western sense of suspense and adventure (he wasn't called the Middle Eastern Ennicone for nothing) this track (found on the collection Musique Original de Films) commences with firmly rich standup bass joined with a rim-clopping subtle-funk, that to this bent-ear comes across as hooves dissolving like a perfect sweet-drug for the dead onto sinking stone, into a body of imaginative and forward sounding stellar organ before even removing the caul of the song's 1st stage. It then ventures into an eminently danceable swirl of what I might call Algerian Spaghetti Genius (hereinafter acronymized into ASG, but never used again).
It moves with such a dramatic, but lighthearted step into a most colorful desert of deadly verve. The tempo picks up, and that most spacey-futuristic fuzz of keyboards that provides hypnotic color to the complementing rhythmic traction lets loose. It is as infectious as the most hypnotic groove gems churned out by such Italian musical wizards such Paolo Puccini, or found in the best record store buy of my life, Strobocopica 1.
Puccini's track "Ti ho sposato per allegiria" from the film of the same title, provided the portal that led me to Malek. It was on one of those home-bound COVID nights of this young century, that I saw Malek's film work collection just sitting on the bottom of a Bandcamp page, and I'm the richer for it.
The 1979 film that carries the 'Autopsy track' is consistent with Mr. Maleks worldly-searching, courtly-disco sponged explorative sound. It is not without the stamp of his Algerian/Middle Eastern heritage, but goes beyond such boundaries into daring territory in emotional force. It is little wonder that Malek represented Algeria in international-culture events such as the World Expo of 1970 Osaka Japan. It was this trip, and his proud ambassadorial position at the Expo, that he would reference as coming to inspire his own fluid, and multivarious approach to sound or genre, and its possibilities.
Domenic Maltempi is a person living in Sleepy Queens. Some of his music may be found here: El Alto Center of Accident One.
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